Blogging, bullying, and the big pile-on

What most bloggers are like on the inside?

In this blog post at Why Advertising Sucks, the author talks–in angry, pithy language–about how quick people on the internet are to criticize. He writes, “People behind a computer are your judges, not knowing you, not knowing your life.” That’s true, and it’s not news. But it got me thinking about the part of it that bothers me the most.

Anyone who’s ever been a kid knows about the “pile on,” when everyone lines up behind the loudest taunting voice and joins in the derision. It’s a subset of bullying, noticeable for the presence in the mocking crowd of previous bullying victims. After all, what better place to hide from subsequent abuse than behind the bully?

Usually those piled-on are the odd ones: the geeks, the nerds, the ones with asthma or thick glasses, the ones clutching a book instead of a football. More cruelly, it could be those with specific physical or mental conditions that make them different. But whoever it is, we sympathize with them, right? No matter who was being picked on, we’d never do that ourselves, would we? We’re better than that…aren’t we?

Many bloggers, like me, identify with the political left, and some frequently take to the keyboard to berate the right’s latest perceived misstep. These bloggers are preaching to the choir just as much as Michelle Malkin or Matt Drudge, setting themselves up as the standard-bearers for causes with which they know their followers already sympathize. Their intentions may be good, even noble; but in practice they’re the loudmouths, pointing and laughing.

And this leads directly to the pile-on, as these fans, followers and commentators rush to join the bloggers in being the most offended by whatever (or whoever) the topic at hand might be. Often, the people most offended have, as they say, no dog in the fight. They simply enjoy being part of the pile. The author of the above blog post calls them, “mean, selfish, egocentric douches who decided that the hipster thing to do was criticize the shit out of people.”

And it’s bullying. The only difference? People are running to the pile from the left instead of the right. And if you’ve ever been bullied, ever been piled on, you should really stop a moment and think about what you’re doing, and what it says about you. Forget who the target is, and look at yourself. Is this who you want to be? Are you really no better than this?

The blogosphere in general is about as mature as the average middle school recess. When people post about current events, it’s often with the same emotional motivation as that playground chest-poke that leads to a fight. It doesn’t matter if the bloggers are parents or grandparents; anyone of any age can be immature. I know I can. But I try very hard not to be. And more to the point, I’ve been piled-on in real life. I have no desire to do it to anyone else, no matter what the provocation, because that reduces me to the level of a bully.

So while I certainly share the outrage at recent statements and events, and support those who promote positive change as opposed to just criticizing, I have no interest in joining the pile-on. I’ve got too many memories of being the kid at the bottom of the pile.

4 Comments on “Blogging, bullying, and the big pile-on”

  1. Great post, Alex! I too remember being at the bottom of the pile – I was just talking about this with someone because we were listening to a review on NPR of the new documentary Bully, that has become a bit controversial. I have shameful memories of rejecting other kids in middle school because I was already so low on the totem pole that I couldn’t afford (in my mind) to be associated with them.

    It’s something that really bothers me now when I see it on the internet – hiding behind the big bully.

  2. I avoid politics like the plague on my blog for this very reason. But, a lot of times, all it takes is an opinion to get the pile-on started. Blog anonymity lets anyone be the bully and, unfortunately, a lot of people seem to like taking on that role. Great post.

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